Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God.The Eternal Choice
Joshua here calls Israel to decide between Jehovah's service and the service of other gods, such as their fathers served in Mesopotamia, or such as the neighbouring Amorites served. They were no longer to give a half-hearted service, but to choose whom they would serve wholly. The call did not imply neutrality, or that they were not bound to serve Jehovah; but it was meant to arouse the indifferent, and those who thought they could combine Jehovah's service with that of other gods. A similar call comes to men in the Gospel.
I. God's Call to Us.—God demands real and actual service; not the intention, profession, or appearance, but the thing itself. He is entitled to service as our Creator, Benefactor, Redeemer. In a sense we are all servants. There is no escape from service. We serve that to which our whole heart is given. God's call is to serve Him.
II. The Choice.—It is for ourselves to choose whether our service shall be the holy and blessed one of Jehovah or that of other gods. That we may choose is implied in the call to choose; while it is true that man cannot choose God's service without being made willing by God's grace. God expects us to choose; offers help to our choosing; counts us responsible for our choice. In point of fact we must choose, and do actually choose, one service or another. No neutrality is possible, and God will not have a constrained service.
III. The Urgency of the Call.—The call is imperative for 'today'. The decision is to be immediate; not certainly rash and reckless, without due calculation of the cost, yet certainly prompt on a sufficient view of what the service involves. God's urgency is gracious; He knows the danger of delay and the evil of indecision, and how men let slip, through carelessness and procrastination, their most precious opportunities.
(a) We may choose now. There is no need to postpone the decision from ignorance of the objects of choice, from their number, from their distance, or from the difficulty of the act of choosing. The information for guiding the choice is ample and varied, and yet capable of being condensed into simple and exhaustive terms. The objects of choice are practically two, Jehovah or other gods; two services that cannot be mistaken for each other, and that cannot be combined. There is no embarrassing multiplicity or distracting similarity.
(b) We shall find the choice more difficult the longer it is delayed. Delay in doing a thing that is felt to be disagreeable always increases the repugnance, enfeebles the resolution, paralyses the will. Some things need to be done at once if they are to be done at all. Sinful habits, making the choice of God's service seem painful, grow in power. Delayed repentance is difficult repentance.
(c) The time for choosing is limited. We cannot reckon on a longer or another time than this day. Divine patience even has its limits. The day of grace is not running on for ever, and indecision may provoke its abrupt termination.
Therefore choose this day. Indecision is contemptible and dangerous. You are as unsafe in indecision as if you had decided boldly not to serve the Lord.
References.—XXIV. 15.—Spurgeon. Sermons, vol. xxi. No. 1229. A. H. Bradford, Sermons, vol. xliv. 1903, p. 104. A. Murray, The Children for Christ, p. 124. Henry Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii. pp. 423, 439, 466. XXIV. 19.—J. Ker, Sermons, p. 66. XXIV. 19-28.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Deuteronomy, Joshua, etc., p. 183. XXIV. 26.—W. M. Punshon, The Covenant of Joshua, p. 913; see also Outlines of Sermons on the Old Testament, p. 59.
And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone—if not great in size, yet in its purpose and symbolism—'and set it up there under an oak'—well matched—'that was by the sanctuary of the Lord'; the sanctuary is an oak, and the oak is a sanctuary. 'And Joshua said unto all the people, Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us'—or a witness against us, it may be both—'for it hath heard all the words of the Lord which He spake unto us.' Curious, exciting, incredible, certain. 'It shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God,' lest you shake off the memory of your own prayers, lest you break your own covenants, ye men of bad faith, for your history is against you. We want to apply this, not only on the Divine side, but on the human side. Sometimes poetry is the only reality. How often have we quoted the word, that fiction is the greater fact. The kingdom of heaven is represented in parables, and the parables mean that we do not half-understand yet what the kingdom of God is.
I. Christ had a good deal to say about stones. Said He once to people who were boasting of themselves and boasting of their ancestry, 'God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham'. Jesus once said to the devil, to the black face of the universe when that face tempted the Christ to make bread out of stones, 'Man shall not live by bread alone'—there is no bread of your kind in eternity. God made man come up from eternity, and you could live, if God so willed it, on a word, a syllable, a tone. On another occasion the people said, 'Hearest Thou not this crying and tumult? can this be permitted?' He said, If these little children and young folks were to hold their peace, the very stones would cry out, they are listening, and they will not permit too much neglect of Christ. The prayerless house may one day rush down, because the stones will stand no longer in protection of atheism so blank and horrible.
II. Our very footprints may preach. Some poor forlorn and shipwrecked brother coming and seeing them on the wet sand, they may preach to him a gospel of hope and renewed courage and spiritual blessing. We cannot tell what we are doing, no man can follow the range of his own influence. When did any farmer ever foresee a harvest that would be worth the sickle? 'There will be no corn this year: such and such was the condition of affairs in March, such and such were the conditions climatic in April, that there will be no harvest this year: there is no prospect of our having any need to wield the scythe or the sickle; there is a poor lookout this year.' The stones heard it, and the soil registered it, and lo, August was aflame with the gifts of God. The stars were listening to what we said, good or bad. They are a long way off, they are quite near at hand. Why, the sun is within whisper-reach, if we knew things really as they are: and all the stars coming out, trooping forth, to bear witness for us or against us to God. And when we begin to say, 'If we had heard the Gospel we would have believed it,' the stones will say, You did hear it, you know you heard it The stones are full of the words that God spake in your hearing. The stone caught it, the sermon you forgot it treasures in its stony heart.
III. There were other listeners. Your little child heard when you thought it was not listening. When is a child not listening? The little child there, four to five years of age, heard that oath you spoke under your breath, and that oath may follow the dear little pilgrim all the days of its life; it may not be able to explain why, but the oath that fell from your livid lips struck that little creature, and ever after it will hear something, and memory may help the little one to remember what was spoken that day when you thought nobody heard you curse your wife, or husband, or fortune, or life.
IV. God hears, God listens, Christ hears, Christ hears everything, nothing can escape the attention of the Divine Hearer; the whole Trinity is a listening Trinity! And the stones listen, and the things we call inferior animals have wonderful uses. Let us take care! The stone heard the words of the Lord, and the stone also heard our replies. Be no longer fools and wasters of time, but heed the living God, and let no opportunity pass.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. v. p. 262.
References.—XXIV. 27.—Henry Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. v. p. 63. Phillips Brooks, The Mystery of Iniquity, p. 260. XXIV. 29.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, God's Heroes, p. 61.
And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods.
And I took your father Abraham from the other side of the flood, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac.
And I gave unto Isaac Jacob and Esau: and I gave unto Esau mount Seir, to possess it; but Jacob and his children went down into Egypt.
I sent Moses also and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt, according to that which I did among them: and afterward I brought you out.
And I brought your fathers out of Egypt: and ye came unto the sea; and the Egyptians pursued after your fathers with chariots and horsemen unto the Red sea.
And when they cried unto the LORD, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and brought the sea upon them, and covered them; and your eyes have seen what I have done in Egypt: and ye dwelt in the wilderness a long season.
And I brought you into the land of the Amorites, which dwelt on the other side Jordan; and they fought with you: and I gave them into your hand, that ye might possess their land; and I destroyed them from before you.
Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and warred against Israel, and sent and called Balaam the son of Beor to curse you:
But I would not hearken unto Balaam; therefore he blessed you still: so I delivered you out of his hand.
And ye went over Jordan, and came unto Jericho: and the men of Jericho fought against you, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I delivered them into your hand.
And I sent the hornet before you, which drave them out from before you, even the two kings of the Amorites; but not with thy sword, nor with thy bow.
And I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat.
Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD.
And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the LORD, to serve other gods;
For the LORD our God, he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and which did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the people through whom we passed:
And the LORD drave out from before us all the people, even the Amorites which dwelt in the land: therefore will we also serve the LORD; for he is our God.
And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.
If ye forsake the LORD, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good.
And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve the LORD.
And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the LORD, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses.
Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the LORD God of Israel.
And the people said unto Joshua, The LORD our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey.
So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem.
And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of the LORD.
And Joshua said unto all the people, Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us; for it hath heard all the words of the LORD which he spake unto us: it shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God.
So Joshua let the people depart, every man unto his inheritance.
And it came to pass after these things, that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being an hundred and ten years old.
And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnathserah, which is in mount Ephraim, on the north side of the hill of Gaash.
And Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the LORD, that he had done for Israel.
And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for an hundred pieces of silver: and it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph.
And Eleazar the son of Aaron died; and they buried him in a hill that pertained to Phinehas his son, which was given him in mount Ephraim.